17th February 2017
Godalming Borough Hall
Type of Production
Author: Pauline Surrey
Iolanthe was premiered in 1882 at the Savoy Theatre, in the presence of Gladstone, the Prince of Wales, and many peers of the realm. The Savoy had recently been kitted out with electricity – the first public building in the world to be lit this way. The fairies were given an electric star in their hair, how exciting and amazing this must have been!
The production tells of the clever fairies outwitting the stuffy and not so bright peers of the realm. It discusses the perennial issue of ‘what to do about the House of Lords’. I wonder what the first night audience in 1882 thought of it! Of course, it remains topical today.
The fairy glade with its stream was so inviting, one just wanted to go for a stroll through those lush woods. The Houses of Parliament set was also brilliant, and set off those odd Lords to perfection! Not only was the set evocatively and effectively lit, all very magical and atmospheric, but the fairies themselves were effectively lit, with their illuminated headdresses, as in the original production, and indeed by the end of the show, the whole cast were sporting them!
The costumes were a joy, positively exciting. The fairies’ gloriously colourful dresses, so many different layers and colours in each, were delightful, a feast for the eyes. Every little girl in the audience must have yearned for one of those illuminated headdresses, together with the sparkly makeup! The peers, resplendent in their long velvet cloaks of many hues (according to their rank?), their various coronets and insignia, were absolutely splendid. Handsome fellows all.
What a pleasure it is to have a team of fine musicians playing together so lustily and so sensitively to accompany their cast. Musical Director David Wright created some very emotional and balanced small group ensembles, particularly the balance between the duets of Phyllis and Strephon, and also Phyllis’s trio with Tolloller and Mountararat.
The production began in the fairies’ beautiful woodland glade. Iolanthe was forgiven by the Fairy Queen for the sin of marrying a mortal, so was allowed to emerge from her home of many years – the bottom of the stream! Her son, Strephon the shepherd, madly in love with the beautiful Phyllis, a ward in chancery, is downcast as he discovers himself to be half a fairy – luckily the bottom half mortal, top half fairy! Thus far, a typically mad and intricate G and S plot!
Every year, on attending these Godalming Operatic Society productions in Godalming’s charming Borough Hall, I scan the cast list, and emit a sigh of relief as I spot some well-known names. Nora Price was outstanding as ever, this time in the role of the Fairy Queen, with rich, fine voice and excellent presence, and a slightly saucy weighing up of our handsome guardsman, Private Willis. Rebecca Lucas was the perfect Phyllis, all innocence and delight, both surprised at her beauty attracting so many admirers, yet also rather frustrated at the long stream of them too! Her excellent acting and singing skills are always a delight to experience. Then, of course, further joy at seeing Simon Cakebread’s name on the cast list, as expected in the role of Lord Chancellor. Such fun to be able to enjoy his talent again! How he manages to remember the words to those long and complicated texts amazes me. Another superb performance.
Richard Arthur, resplendent in his guard’s uniform with scarlet tunic and busby, was fantastic as Private Willis, ‘love’ interest of the Fairy Queen. Not only was he in fine voice, but his bemused observation of the puzzling goings-on at the Houses of Parliament, and his excellent marching skills, caused many a chuckle in the audience. Andrew Ellison as Strephon was a loveable character, perplexed by his half fairy/half mortal situation, delighted in love, then so despondent at the seeming hopelessness of the situation. He gave a very convincing performance also after his metamorphosis from shepherd into a believable MP!
The rests of the cast, soloists and chorus alike, provided yet again surely one of the best G and S productions there could possibly be, directed impeccably by Pat O’Connell. Excellent team work all round, including obviously the backstage team, managed by Jill O’Regan. A buzzing evening of superb fun and glorious singing and music. Thank you, GOS.